A Little Travel Memory… Firelight, Stoves, and Big Smile

Last updated on November 14, 2021

One of the stoves in use that was built by volunteers outside of Xela, Guatemala.
One of the functioning stoves built by volunteers outside of Xela, Guatemala

The smell of burning wood hit me first as I ducked through the entrance of the small house – ducking saved my head from earning yet another gash and also put me right at eye level with the beaming smile from the Guatemalan woman nervously wringing her hands in the center of the room. As I stood up tall on the other side of the doorway I abruptly found myself in the center of her house.

She was eager to show off her functioning stove and welcomed our requests to snap a few photos –she was proud. I was one of several volunteers who had hiked to a rural town outside of Xela, Guatemala to help with a stove building project in the region. Having put two solid days into the building of a large stove for a young and growing family nearby, I was curious as to what the finished product would look like once the concrete had settled for a week and the family was able to light a fire and cook their meals.

This woman had a finished stove up and working and she explained to us that her family (and neighbors) all keep the stove running day in and day out now that they don’t have to contend with smoke inhalation issues and worry about the children injuring themselves on an indoor open flame (which is the standard alternative).

I had found the volunteer project through my Spanish language school in Xela, Guatemala and signed on immediately; it didn’t take too much commitment—just two days out of my travels to build a complete stove – and the results were measurable.

Sometimes as a volunteer I wonder about how to vet projects, how to spend my time where it’s actually making a difference, and not instead just finding a way to give myself a “do-goodery” feeling and a pat on the back. This is one of those worthwhile experiences and worth a day or two of your time if you’re passing through Xela, Guatemala.

14 thoughts on “A Little Travel Memory… Firelight, Stoves, and Big Smile”

  1. Wow what a great opportunity to help others.  Good job with the ducking and making sure you didn’t earn another battle wound.  I’m sure that it really makes you feel great that someone really appreciates the effort you put in.

  2. Awesome post- glad you were able to make a difference in someone else’s life. My sister will be travelling there in September, albeit to language school to learn Spanish, not sure if it is XELA. We were told it is like Mexico 30 years ago without the rapid development.

    •  It is definitely one of the less developed Central American countries – I’d say more like Costa Rica 30 years ago though! Mexico is pretty populated even then! :)  Guatemala is a PERFECT place to learn Spanish, and Xela in particular is better for immersion if that is what she is looking for. I am here if she has any questions as well!

  3. Great blog entry, stumbled across this while looking for travel tidbits for Guatemala. Here´s one of my own for yourself or anyone else looking to volunteer or intern in Guatemala – EntreMundos, a non-profit based out of Xela. They work with over 200 different grass-roots NGOs here in Guatemala helping place volunteers – and have several different really low-cost (or free!) services to help you find the perfect opportunity for you. They can place you from overseas, have a free online database, or for only 25Q (3$) you can visit their office for a personalized consultation and placement.

    Thanks to them, I have been working giving workshops in rural communities on reproductive health. Awesome.

    Check out their website . Well worth it!

    All the best!

    •  Thanks for sharing this opportunity! It’s always great to have low-cost and free opportunities on the radar! :)

  4. yeah for Guatemala! I always love reading other people’s experiences in this country-I feel like it was there that I first really began to develop my travel happiness ;) Oh and I went to Eureka language school in Xela. Loved it!

    • Guatemala really jived with me too – I loved it there, it had just the right balance of everything, and the ability to really immerse in Spanish and the culture was tops! :)

  5. I keep saying I’m going to volunteer on my travels and never get around to it. I’ll have to try and look this up when I’m in Guatemala.

    •  There are some great volunteer programs in Xela, in the north of Guatemala, so it’s worth looking up, there is also one on the Rio Dulce that is easy to do! Let me know when you travel through there and I’ll give you some options :)


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